One more day. Most of the Phillies will rest on Thursday before reporting Friday to Citizens Bank Park for what should be a rather different opening day. Fans will be replaced by cardboard cutouts, cheering will be pumped through the speakers, and some players - like Didi Gregorius - will be wearing masks as baseball begins a 60-game season during the pandemic. But it will still be opening day. Finally.
“Ready. Set. 60,” Bryce Harper said.
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Harper on Realmuto: ‘That’s why I lengthened’ my contract
If you don’t know how Bryce Harper feels by now about J.T. Realmuto, then maybe you haven’t been paying attention.
Harper started summer camp by wearing a Realmuto t-shirt, said it would be “terrible and sad” if the Phillies lost the catcher to free agency, and then yelled “Sign him” after Realmuto homered in the team’s first scrimmage. All of this came after a season where Harper said Realmuto was his “favorite player.”
But Harper has more than just adoration for baseball’s premier catcher. Harper has a contract that he says should help the Phillies re-sign Realmuto.
“If J.T. is the best for our organization that’s going to set us up long term to try to win World Series, we can do that,” Harper said. “I think my contract is pretty suitable to bring guys in here. That’s why I lengthened it out for as long as I did. Hopefully we can get that deal done to the best of our ability.”
Harper came to the Phillies on a record-setting $330 million deal, but the money is spread over 13 seasons. The Phillies were able to land a superstar last offseason, but they didn’t handcuff themselves from future spending.
Baseball’s luxury tax is calculated by a contract’s average-annual value, which is why it was important for the Phillies that Harper’s deal was for 13 years instead of 10 years. They understand that he might not play for 13 seasons, but it’s better for business to stretch his money out than compact it into a shorter deal. Harper’s AAV is now $25.38 million instead of $33 million if he signed a 10-year-deal for $330 million. That provides some flexibility.
“Everyone knows how I feel about J.T. I think the fan base, we feel the same way and I think ownership does too,” Harper said. “You know, I think we’re 60 days away from him getting to free agency and so forth, so I think J.T. is going to do what’s best for his family, what’s best for himself, and hopefully that’s him coming back to Philly and getting a deal done. I think he’s the best catcher in baseball, a great player, a great individual that we need in our clubhouse as a leader and as a person and hopefully we can get that deal done and he can be in red pinstripes for the rest of his career.”
Mookie Betts, who was set to become a free agent after the season, signed a contract extension Wednesday to stay with the Dodgers. So what does that mean for J.T. Realmuto? Scott Lauber has the details.
Congrats to the Dominique and Zack Wheeler on the birth of their baby boy. Baby Wheeler was born on Monday, which means Mr. Wheeler will make his Phillies debut on Saturday against the Marlins. Vince Velasquez will start Sunday and Jake Arrieta will start Monday.
There’s so many larger-than-life characters throughout Phillies history and one of the biggest is certainly Gus Hoefling. The team’s former trainer/guru is now suing tobacco companies while he fights his own cancer battle. Mike Sielski and David Gambacorta teamed up for a really interesting and well-reported article.
Today: Zach Eflin will throw a simulated game at Citizens Bank Park.
Tomorrow: Opening day ... finally, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday: Zack Wheeler makes his Phillies debut, 4:05 p.m.
Sunday: Vince Velasquez starts the series finale, 1:05 p.m.
Stat of the day
The Phillies are scheduled to play next weekend at the Blue Jays but no one is quite sure where exactly Toronto going to play this season. They are without a home just a day before opening day after Canada said they can’t play in Toronto and Pennsylvania squashed the team’s plans to play in Pittsburgh. There’s a chance that the Blue Jays could play 60 games this season on the road and if so that would bring them to Citizens Bank Park as the “home team” on July 31.
If you remember, this has already happened. The Blue Jays moved a three-game series to Philadelphia in June of 2010 due to security concerns during the G-20 summit in Toronto. The Phillies wore their road uniforms, batted first, and used a designated hitter. Ryan Howard, former longtime Phillies PR director Larry Shenk notes, made history as the first DH in a National League park. Roy Halladay faced his former team for the first time, the Phillies played walk-up music for both teams, and even showed Blue Jays videos in-between innings. The Phillies and Blue Jays shared gate revenue, something they won’t have to worry about if the Blue Jays come to South Philly next weekend.
The Expos - yes, another team from the Great White North - were forced to switch their home game to Philadelphia on short notice but they remained the road team for a two-game series in September 1991 at Veterans Stadium. The Expos had to leave Olympic Stadium after a concrete girder fell. The Phillies closed off the upper deck at the Vet, sold tickets for $5, and drew fewer than 6,000 fans both nights. The Phillies might have more cardboard cutouts at their games this season.
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.
Question: I read that the Phillies will have cardboard cutouts this season? How do I get one? - Charles B.
Answer: Thanks, Charles. The Phillies announced Wednesday that they will have cardboard cutouts in the seats this season, but they are not yet on sale. The team is filling the seats behind home plate this weekend with the faces of doctors, nurses, and hospital staff who are on the front lines of COVID-19. The Phillies said fans will be able to purchase their own “in the near future.” Prices are $25 for season-ticket holders and $40 for the general public. The net proceeds will benefit Phillies Charities.
“Details will be forthcoming,” the team said.